A week in Budapest, and the end of our international travel

Oh hello there. We do, in fact, still exist. We didn’t just decide to stay in Vienna forever and never come back, as can be verified by our travel timeline right there to the right. We’ve just been a little busy, and posting about Budapest and everything since then hasn’t really floated to the top of our to-do lists.

First, a note – today officially marks the one-year anniversary of this crazy travel adventure. As it always goes, it’s hard to believe it’s been one whole year already, though of course certain things already feel like they were ages ago. We’re definitely more and more excited each day to get back to having a home and a more “normal” daily life, but we both definitely agree that this year has been amazing and we’d do it again in a heartbeat.

And now on to Budapest – which now that’s a bit in the past, I’m having trouble remembering a lot of the details. You’ve likely noticed by now that Brett’s posts tend to be far more detailed and chronological than mine, which is mainly a function of my far inferior memory for details. I’ll do my best, but just a warning that this will be a pretty basic summary of what was a really great and full week.

We left Vienna on June 13 and took what was supposed to be a train to Budapest. Central Europe was at the tail end of what was some of the worst flooding they’d seen in hundreds of years, and the train we should have been taking from Vienna to Budapest could not get from Munich to Vienna because of flooding. The train agency scheduled a different train to take passengers to Budapest, but decided to communicate this situation by flashing a giant “CANCELLED” next to our train on the station board. This was less than amusing, especially since we then had to find the agency office and figure everything out while lugging around our giant suitcases and bags full of all the wine and other souvenirs we were dragging home from Austria. But we did get on a train, and even though flooding meant we had to transfer to a bus and then back to a different train in order to get to Budapest, we still made it into the city only about an hour behind schedule.

Budapest was fantastic. We’ve often described it to people afterward as having the beautiful buildings and history of Western Europe but with a much more laid-back attitude – similar to the feeling we had in Buenos Aires, way back at the beginning of our international travel. Also like Buenos Aires the city felt very young, artistic, and hip, and we were very surprised by how … well, how hip everything felt, to use a word that is already overused. In comparison, Vienna definitely felt more old-fashioned and a bit behind the times.

While our time in Vienna was mostly rainy and cold, our time in Budapest was HOT. And I don’t mean that because of the paprika, but because it was about 98F almost every day we were there. That put quite a damper on our ability to explore on foot as much as we would have liked, but aside from some frustratingly hot and sleepless nights we made it work.

We rented a fantastic apartment in Budapest in an area of the city that felt fairly quiet yet young, the sort of place that hip young families might live, slightly southeast of the center. There was a lovely park about two blocks from our place, which we walked through at least once or twice each day, and our building was on a street with a wide selection of restaurants.

Breakfast in the park by our apartment.

Breakfast in the park by our apartment.

Beautiful (but noisy) courtyard of our apartment building.

Beautiful (but noisy) courtyard of our apartment building.

An evening in the park.

An evening in the park.

Despite the heat we still walked around the city quite a bit, stopping at sights like the synagogue (the second largest in the world, at that), the Great Market Hall, Hero’s Square, the old palace, the Museum of Terror (which was excellent, despite a depressing subject) and the Parliament building.

Basic Budapest street scene.

Basic Budapest street scene.

View of the Parliament building from old town across the river.

View of the Parliament building from old town across the river.

 

Gorgeous synagogue

Gorgeous synagogue

Great Market Hall

Great Market Hall

Paprika for sale at the Great Market Hall

Paprika for sale at the Great Market Hall

Hero's Square

Hero’s Square

First underground subway station in Europe.

First underground subway station in Europe.

Liszt statue along Andrassy Ut.

Liszt statue along Andrassy Ut.

We also took two day trips, one north to the small town of Szentendre and one east to Eger. Eger is in Hungary’s wine district, and much of our visit consisted of tastings in the town’s wine caves – small rooms literally built into the rock, some more modernized and ready for tourists and some far more old-fashioned and basic.

The weekend market on the streets of Szentendre.

The weekend market on the streets of Szentendre.

Getting lunch in Szentendre.

Getting lunch in Szentendre.

A more modern wine cave in Eger.

A more modern wine cave in Eger.

Checking out the guest book at a more old-school wine cave.

Checking out the guest book at a more old-school wine cave.

Buying a bottle of wine from a wine cave (the walls are literally covered in cushy black mold!)

Buying a bottle of wine from a wine cave (the walls are literally covered in cushy black mold!).

The train to and from Eger.

The train to and from Eger.

The food and drink in Hungary is definitely worth noting. We absolutely loved most everything we ate and drank, though it was definitely heavy and we were happy to have a little more variety by the time we left. We loved the goulash and chicken paprikash, all the pastries and breads, and the beer and wine and fruit brandies.

Excellent sour cherry and plum beers.

Excellent sour cherry and plum beers.

Chicken paprikash.

Chicken paprikash.

Goulash.

Goulash.

Fried dough with cheese, sour cream, and veggies.

Fried dough with cheese, sour cream, and veggies.

At the end of our time in Budapest we flew back to the United States, with our heavy bags full of souvenirs in tow. This marked the end of our international travels, which we faced with mixed emotions.

Vienna, part two

The remainder of our time in Vienna has been a bit slower, mainly due to the fact that the weather has been so terrible, though a couple of days ago the sun finally (FINALLY) returned and we’ve been able to spend more time outside (and divert from the steady rotation of 2-3 outfits we’ve been wearing for weeks … we packed mainly summer clothes, which have barely left the closet). We have only a couple of days left before we head to Budapest on Thursday, where we’ll be for a week before heading back to the United States. Our international travel for the year is almost done, which is really hard to believe.

There’s no way I’ll remember everything else we’ve done in order (Brett’s much better with that chronological stuff), but here are some highlights:

We’ve done quite a bit more hiking, bringing our total of the Stadtwangerwegs to five (hikes 1, 2, 3, 4a, and 5, and we’re planning to do 1a as an activity on our last day – and we didn’t intend to those first five numbers, by any means; they just ended up being the ones we chose). This system of trails is quite amazing and we’d highly recommend it to anyone visiting Vienna. You can get to each trailhead by public transit and the website lists places along each trail to stop for eating and drinking. Most go through vineyards and parks and have beautiful views of the city, though some have had some disappointingly urban sections that weren’t very exciting (we’d recommend they shorten the route and start in the natural areas instead). If you’re traveling there and want a hiking recommendation, leave a comment below and we’d be happy to help! I decided that if we ever live here I will put together a more detailed English-language guide to the trails, since there are definitely some interesting places to note along the way and sometimes the signage on-site is a little confusing.

We’ve also taken two trips outside of Vienna – one overnight trip to the Krems area along the Danube (which has since experienced some pretty heavy flooding – our timing was fortuitous) and a day trip to Bratislava, Slovakia. We did the same trip to Krems when we were here two years ago, although then we drove there from Vienna and afterward continued heading west across the country. This time we took the one-hour train ride out in the morning, stayed there overnight and took the train back. We spent the two days biking around on the bike paths along the river (which run along the river across the entire country), stopping at heurigens and other little shops in the villages along the way. We had a few favorite places from our last trip that we wanted to revisit, which we were able to do for the most part (notable because most of the heurigens and other places are only open for a few random weeks of the year; we were lucky to be there when a few of our favorite places were open). Buying wine was one of our main priorities of the trip, and we brought 9 bottles back with us, most of which were far cheaper for the level of quality than what we’d be able to get in Vienna. We also enjoyed a repeat visit to Wieser, an Austrian distillery, where we picked up a collection of high-quality fruit schnapps (totally different than American schnapps; get that idea of root beer and peach and whatever else out of your mind) to have a taste of summer in the middle of what is sure to be a shocking Midwestern winter.

Train to Krems

Train to Krems

Heuriger garden

Heuriger garden

Wine and Quargelaufstrichtsbrot at a heuriger

Wine and Quargelaufstrichtsbrot at a heuriger

We stayed at the same homestay in Stein (next to Krems) where we stayed last time, one of the many “Zimmer Frei”s (open room) places in the towns where people open up a few rooms of their house to visitors, which was wonderful. We rented bikes from the new city bike stands, which didn’t exist last time we were there, and despite some language-barrier difficulty in renting and returning the bikes (all of which happens over the phone), everything worked out pretty well. This was in the middle of a particularly bad rainy spell, but we picked our days perfectly – the only two non-rainy days in those few weeks.

Biking through the vineyards

Biking through the vineyards

Biking Brett

Biking Brett

Biking through Durnstein

Biking through Durnstein

Half a case of wine in basket in backpack!

Half a case of wine in basket in backpack!

If anyone wants more details about doing a biking trip to this area, definitely ask. We’d be happy to share details of where we stayed, where we drank, where we ate, etc. It’s one of our favorite travel experiences that we’ve ever, ever had, and we’re really hoping to do the longer cross-country cycling trip some day. If you’re friends with me on Facebook, you can see the album of photos from the trip that I posted when we got back.

Last week we took a day trip to Bratislava, only a 45-minute train ride from Vienna. We couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit another new country and to see somewhere so different. It was amazing to be somewhere so close but with an entirely different language, culture, and history. We mainly wandered around the picturesque little town, hiking up the hill to the castle to get great views and eating a pretty traditional Slovakian lunch, which was about the heaviest meal we’d ever eaten. (Seriously – I ordered the gnocchi, which was covered in sheep cheese, lard, and bacon. Brett ordered the porkchop, which was heavily coated in potato batter and deep fried, topped with a mountain of shredded cheese, and accompanied by a salad that was more creamy dressing than lettuce. It took a lot of walking to work those pits out of our stomachs …) We also wandered over to the river, where great crowds of people were gathered to see the height of the water. Temporary walls guarded by police officers were put up along most of the way, holding back the water that I would guess was almost five feet above the level of the sidewalks/streets. It was pretty crazy to be walking along knowing that on the other side of the metal wall next to us was a rushing river at about shoulder height.

Bratislava doorway

Bratislava doorway

Statue downtown

Statue downtown

Historic downtown

Historic downtown

View over the flooded river

View over the flooded river

A view over the historic area

A view over the historic area

Brett's porkchop and salad

Brett’s porkchop and salad

Flooded boat dock

Flooded boat dock

There's a raging river behind that temporary wall ...

There’s a raging river behind that temporary wall …

Flooded park (view over the temporary wall)

Flooded park (view over the temporary wall)

Closed railway bridge over the river (not flood-related)

Closed railway bridge over the river (not flood-related)

The central, historic area of Bratislava is pretty cute, although touristy, but it was definitely worth a day trip. We didn’t really want to pay to get into any museums or do a tour or anything, though, and we were a little afraid of eating another heavy meal, so we ended up heading back before dinner.

Back in town, we’ve checked off a number of things on our Vienna To-Do List. We’ve visited the Kunsthistorisches Museum (classic/historical art), Museum für angewandte Kunst (applied arts), and the Secession Museum, a museum/contemporary art space founded by artists in the so-called “secession” movement of the early 20th Century. Each was awesome and totally different, and now I’m obsessed with, among other things, Klimt friezes and Viennese coffeehouse furniture.

We’ve also spent more time wandering around the center, partially because of our quests to eat more döner and to buy some nice ceramics, the first of which has been fulfilled many times and the second of which has utterly failed. But we did discover and return to Café Hawelka, a totally old-school and popular café downtown, and finally made it back to Figlmüller for their incredible schnitzel and potato salad with pumpkin seed oil.

Pre-lunch snack at Freyung Biobauernmarkt

Pre-lunch snack at Freyung Biobauernmarkt

Central Vienna

Central Vienna

Huge and amazing schnitzel

Huge and amazing schnitzel

We also finally made it to the Flohmarkt (flea market), which attaches itself to the end of the Naschmarkt on Saturdays. We thought we’d come away like bandits with ceramics and steins and maybe even some leiderhosen for Brett, but our shopping mojo is way off these days and we ended up spending our money on desserts, cherries, and vinegar mothers in the Naschmarkt instead. (Vinegar mothers! I can’t wait to make vinegar once we get to Madison. That’s me!)

Schuhe for sale at the Flohmarkt

Schuhe for sale at the Flohmarkt

Flohmarkt stalls

Flohmarkt stalls

And it was our wedding anniversary! This means we’ve officially spent half of our wedding anniversaries in Vienna. We spent the day kind of lazing around in the morning eating a delicious breakfast at home (leftover Turkish braised veggies and meat with poached eggs), then went on Stadtwanderweg 1 through the woods and vineyards above Nussdorf, where we enjoyed some delicious white wine and a Jausenbrettl (snack board) for lunch. We came home, cleaned up and dressed, and went into the center for a fancy cocktail at the Palmenhaus, which we fully enjoyed outside in the sunshine on the first sunny evening since we arrived in Vienna on May 9 (seriously). We went to dinner back in our neighborhood at the same restaurant where we went two years ago, which was lovely, and headed home to enjoy dessert and some fancy apricot schnapps from the distillery we visited on our biking trip. It was a lovely day!

Jausenbrettl

Jausenbrettl

Poppies and vineyards, Stadtwanderweg 1

Poppies and vineyards, Stadtwanderweg 1

Stadtwanderweg 1 view

Stadtwanderweg 1 view

We also did plenty at home in our apartment, mainly because of the rain. We made our way through Arrested Development from pilot to the end of the new season, and I’m this close to finishing the first three seasons of Friday Night Lights, which I bought for about 3 dollars on DVD while we were in Asia. (Wait, I’m probably not supposed to admit that.) Brett’s been working hard on his consulting projects and doing some math studying to prep for school in the fall, and I’ve been putting in long hours looking for jobs and reaching out to folks in Madison and working quite a bit on my website, which I painstakingly transferred to self-hosted back at the beginning of our time in Austria. Our time in Vienna has been perfect for doing those sorts of projects, and we both are so, so glad we decided to schedule this part of the year this way.

In our remaining few days here we’re hoping to do one last hike, like I mentioned earlier, which will take us by our favorite local heuriger and should give us some great farewell views of the city. We have a few last “to eat” tasks that will probably include quite a bit of dessert (I’m having my last apfelstrudel at Cafe Prückel as I write this), and some shopping to do (like coffee and a big bag of poppy seeds to bring back). Tonight we’re going to try to get into the famous Loos American Bar for a cocktail before dinner, and we’re hoping tomorrow is sunny enough for some park time and general wandering.

A taste of Vienna (from our kitchen)

I studied Spanish in middle school, high school, and college, which came in handy for the time we were in South America.  But until recently, the only German I knew came from the basic phrases I had learned from my parents or general osmosis (“gute nacht”, “danke schön”,…) or phrases from things I’ve sung in choir (“Freund, ich bitte hüte dich, Scorpionen schleichen sich unter jeden Stein”).  Recently, I started learning German more formally with Rosetta Stone, a computer program that tries to teach language in an immersion style.  Of course, being here in Vienna has provided its own opportunities for language immersion.  All of that was a long-winded way of getting me to the word of the day: “Hundertjahrflut”, meaning “hundred year flood”.  Yes, Austria is having its second hundred year flood in eleven years, and it happens to coincide with us being here.  So we have been a bit stir crazy the last few days. (The flooding isn’t causing any problems in Vienna at this point, just in other places.)

So, in honor of terrible weather driving us inside, here is a visual tour of some of the great things we’ve been cooking.  Vienna is a city with great food, and over the past few weeks, we’ve certainly been contributing in our own small way.

Be sure to check out more great stuff on Bowen’s blog, both from our time here and from before.

A delicious salad with yogurt dressing

A delicious salad with yogurt dressing

Risotto with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and bacon

Risotto with caramelized onions, mushrooms, and bacon

Pork chops with sauteed onions and roasted scallions

Pork chops with sauteed onions and roasted scallions

Polenta with chicken and yogurt sauce

Polenta with chicken and yogurt sauce

Polenta with sauteed veggies and a poached egg

Polenta with sauteed veggies and a poached egg

Caramelized onion, potato, thyme, and gruyere pizza

Caramelized onion, potato, thyme, and gruyere pizza

Pizza Margherita

Pizza Margherita

Lentils

Lentils

Lentils with feta and tomatoes

Lentils with feta, fennel, and tomatoes

Chicken, avocado and radish salad with creamy dressing

Chicken, avocado and radish salad with creamy dressing

Beans with Chicken

Beans with chicken and fresh bread

Vienna – The first half

We’re just over half way through out time in Vienna.  And it has been magnificent.  We’ve been able to see and do some of the wonderful tourist activities such as museums, but for us, that is not the main draw of Vienna.  Those things are all great, but what makes us love Vienna so much is simply the way life feels here.  The city is set up for Gemütlichkeit.  You may recognize that word from the title of our blog, A World and Gemütlichkeit, and it was being here two years ago that (re)introduced us to the term and reminded us of the importance of the concept.  Gemütlichkeit doesn’t have a direct translation but means, roughly, comfortableness or friendlyness or unhurriedness.  To me, it means enjoyment of life, taking time to enjoy the good things that we always have available to us but that we often neglect.  So while we’ve been here we’ve been going often to cafes, taking lovely hikes through the forested hills that surround the city, drinking incredible and cheap wine, and generally enjoying life.

Most days we spend the morning in our apartment, working, reading, or studying, and then head out after lunch for some adventure.  Sometime just a lovely cafe, sometime the opera, sometimes a museum or a hike.

Our time here started with a wander from our apartment into the center to enjoy one of our favorite Austrian treats, prosecco mit Aperol, at the Kunsthallencafe.  (For more on Aperol, see Bowen’s blog here and here.)  I had set a goal for us not to use any public transportation until after our first weekend so that we would have to get out and walk the streets.  So our second day we walked the nearly three miles up to the Brunnenmarkt market in the 16th district, which was lovely. And we bought a lot of cheap and delicious produce, cheese, dry goods and chicken and walked it back.  Which was … uncomfortable.  I didn’t get sensation back on the tip of one of my fingers for about two days after carrying heavy plastic bags.

Prosecco aperol at Kunsthallencafe

Prosecco aperol at Kunsthallencafe

Chicken for sale in the Brunnenmarkt

Chicken for sale in the Brunnenmarkt

The first weekend we spent wandering and sampling some classics, including our first of many visits to Aida Cafe for Sachertorte and a visit to Zwölfapostelkeller for wine and liptauerbrot.  On the first Monday we explored the city a bit on the free (for the first hour) City Bikes that are stationed all over the city.

Zwölfapostelkeller

Zwölfapostelkeller

The next day we went on our first hike, Stadtwanderweg 3.  The city has a set of 15 hikes in and around the city, 11 of which are short hikes in scenic areas, two of which traverse the city and two of which are 5-6 days trips around the city (seriously).  Each of course is well maintained and has lovely cafes along it to refuel weary walkers.  And each is served by public transit.  Gemütlichkeit!!  This hike took us through the western hills through a couple of vineyards, but mostly through forests and meadows.

A broad boulevard near the beginning of Stadtwanderweg 3

A broad boulevard near the beginning of Stadtwanderweg 3

One of the many signs pointing the way

One of the many signs pointing the way

Another lovely scene in the Wienerwald

Another lovely scene in the Wienerwald

The next day I went to the Opera.  Opera is a big deal in Vienna.  In fact, my understanding is that there is a general belief that every Wiener (person from Vienna, or Wien in German) has a certain right to access opera and other elements of culture.  Thus, while there are fancy seats that cost 185 euro, there are are seats for about 11 euro, and perhaps most impressively, standing tickets (stehplatz) for 3-4 euro.  That’s right, anyone with 3 euro and some extra time to wait in line at the Stehplatzkasse can see the some of the world’s best opera.  By comparison, the New York Met has standing tickets as well, but they cost $17-40.  So to finish out our first week in Vienna, I waited in line for an hour and a half, paid 3 euro and then stood through four and a half hours of Wagner’s Die Walküre.  And it was awesome.  I don’t generally like opera all that much, but this was fantastic.

On the one weekaversary of being in Vienna we headed to see the Klimt and other great art at the Belvedere.  The Belvedere not only has great art, it has lovely gardens and is only about a half mile from our apartment, and recently we’ve been joining the locals on morning jogs through the gardens.  I can guarantee the scenery is much nicer than looking at a TV screen or out the window at the gym.  We started the weekend with dinner at Esterhazy Keller, a local institution with great wine, and then found a lovely little festival at the foot of Stephansdom (St. Stephens Cathedral) where we drank fresh raspberry wine and admired beautiful local crafts.  The next day we wander through the Prater, the very large park in the city and home to the Reisenrad (a giant Ferris wheel) and the Liliputbahn (a tiny train about which my sister and I made up many songs when we were children) in the Wurstelprater amusement park.  The day was intermittently quite rainy, so we escaped into Cafe Prückel, which has become our favorite cafe in the city.

The gardens at the Belvedere

The gardens at the Belvedere

Würst in the Wurstelprater

Würst in the Wurstelprater

A bit of class at Cafe Prückel

A bit of class at Cafe Prückel

On our second Monday in town Bowen came with me to the Opera, and we saw Carmen stehplatz.  This was fun, and the stage direction by Franco Zefirrelli (seriously) was great, but it was much more of a standard opera experience in which the characters sing five times about what they are going to tell you, then sing what they are telling you, and then remind you five times what they just told you, when all they are telling you is that the sun is out today.  The next day we headed in the afternoon out to Nußdorf, an area at the edge of town that has many vineyards and heurigen, small and often informal places to drink new wine and eat simple food.

A whole roast pig at a heuriger

A whole roast pig at a heuriger

In the remainder of the first half of our time here, we went for a walk at Schloss Schunbrunn, I went back to the Opera for more Wagner (Götterdamerung, even longer than Die Walküre), we headed back to Prückel, we wandered through the second district of the city and we took two more great hikes, one up near the northern vineyards and one across the Danube (and also near vineyards; there are lots of vineyards here).

Vineyards along Stadtwanderweg 2

Vineyards along Stadtwanderweg 2

The view from Häuserl am Stoan, on of the Gasthäuser along the hiking paths around Vienna

The view from Häuserl am Stoan, on of the Gasthäuser along the hiking paths around Vienna

Another lovely spot to refuel

Another lovely spot to refuel

Vineyards along Stadtwanderweg 5

Vineyards along Stadtwanderweg 5

So in a word… gemütlichkeit.  Life is good.  The weather has taken a turn for the worse (as I learned yesterday from Rosetta Stone, “Dieses Wetter ist am schlechtesten.”), but we’re still finding ways to enjoy life every day.  Stay tuned for more.

Goats on Stadtwanderweg 5!

Goats on Stadtwanderweg 5!

The Czech Republic

The first part of the European leg of our year was in the Czech Republic.  The main portion of this trip is a five-week stay in Vienna, but we wanted to add on a bit of other travel before and after, and Prague seemed like a great place to start.  Not only is it a great travel destination and much cheaper than Western Europe, some of Bowen’s ancestors came from the Czech Republic, so it was an opportunity to visit “her people”.

We arrived in Prague after a grueling 20 hours of travel from Portland via Dallas and London, and caught a bus to a subway to a bus, which was quite easy and cost us less than $2 per person.  We had found a hotel about 3 miles south of the center in a lovely little residential neighborhood.  We got settled in our hotel, rested a bit and then took the tram into the center to wander a bit.

We got off at the Charles Bridge (Karluv Most), walked out along the bridge a bit to get the lay of the land, and wandered through the old town, into the new town, soaking up the sights and architecture.  We decided to have dinner back in our neighborhood, but stopped into a pub for our first Czech beers.

The Vltava River, with the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle

The Vltava River, with the Charles Bridge and Prague Castle

A few words about Czech beer.  Delicious.  Cheap.  Light yet flavorful.  In a word, awesome.  In a year of lots of beer that was big on refreshment, but not on taste, Czech beer was a wonderful return to quality.  And very different than high quality American beers, which all seem to be about out-hopping the next beer.  (We went to a bar recently that had a full page of beers on tap and about three quarters were either IPA, Double IPA or Triple IPA, and the balance were mostly Imperial Stouts or Belgians, leaving approximately two that weren’t intended as flavor bombs.)  These beers were all about being delicious and reasonable and balanced and drinkable.  I love fizzy refreshing beer, and I love hoppy, flavor-intense beer, but the beer we drank in the Czech Republic was a welcome middle ground.

Our first Czech beer.

Our first Czech beer…

...auspiciously overseen by Emperor Charles V.

…auspiciously overseen by Emperor Charles V.

Our first full day in Prague we headed after breakfast to the Little Quarter (Mala Strana) and the Castle Quarter, wandering up the hill past the beautiful old buildings and an old walled vineyard to great views of the city.  We visited St. Vitus cathedral and wandered a bit.  Then we walked back down again and through the Wallenstein Garden.  We stopped for a lunch of wine, cheese, sausage and bread at a little festival we found on Kampa Island.  We wandered the island a bit, and visited the Infant Jesus of Prague in the Carmelite Church, a major focus of pilgrims and recipient of fancy clothes from all over the world.  Then we walked through the town back to the tram and headed back to our hotel.

Stained glass by Alphonse Mucha in St. Vitus Cathedral

Stained glass by Alphonse Mucha in St. Vitus Cathedral

Spires in Prague Castle from the Wallenstein Gardens

Spires in Prague Castle from the Wallenstein Gardens

A street fair on Kampa Island

A street fair on Kampa Island

Creepy public baby art by David Cerny, the guy who did the creepy baby public art on the huge telecommunications tower in Prage

Creepy public baby art by David Cerny, the guy who did the creepy baby public art on the huge telecommunications tower in Prague.

On our second full day we spent our time in the Old and New Towns.  We started by wandering around Wenceslas Square (Vaclav Namesti), enjoying the beautiful architecture and pondering the historical events that occurred there over the past decades.  Then we headed to the Mucha Museum for some really incredible art.  After lunch we wandered through to the gorgeous Municipal Hall, past the Powder Tower and over to Old Town Square, where we watched the Astronomical Clock chime.  We were so taken by the art at the Mucha Museum and the discussion of the Slav Epic, that we hopped a tram out to the National Gallery to see the full Slav Epic in person.  The Slav Epic is a series of 20 gigantic canvases (the smallest are about 13’x16’ and the largest are about 26’x20’) showing key moments in Slavic history.  Seeing it was one of the best art experiences I have ever had, although I really wish I had a pamphlet or something to help explain each of the canvases.  Then we stopped briefly through the Jewish Quarter and hopped on a nail-biting tram ride as our 90-minute transit tickets expired (we didn’t get caught).

Wenceslas Square

Wenceslas Square

Much less creepy public art by David Cerny, featuring King Wenceslas riding an upside-down horse.

Much less creepy public art by David Cerny, featuring King Wenceslas riding an upside-down horse.

The beautiful entrance to the Municipal Hall

The beautiful entrance to the Municipal Hall

The Powder Tower

The Powder Tower

Prague Astronomical Clock

Prague Astronomical Clock

The next day we headed out to Kutna Hora ,about an hour outside of Prague.  The main attraction is the Bone Church (the Sedlec Ossuary).  In the 13th century the abbot of the local monastery was sent on a trip to the Holy Land and brought back some soil, which he scattered around the cemetery.  Thereafter, people from all over Central Europe wanted to be buried in the cemetery.  Then the Plague and various wars came through, providing many more skeletons for the cemetery.  A few hundred years later, a church was built on the site, and they built an ossuary underneath to house the exhumed bones.  For whatever reason, they decided to decorate the ossuary with the bones, rather than simply stack them all together.  There were bone pyramids, a bone chandelier, a coat of arms of the local noble family made of bone, and even a signature by the architect made in bone.

The bone chandelier

The bone chandelier

A bone coat of arms

A bone coat of arms.  Yes those are all actual human bones.

After the church, we visited the nearby cathedral and then walked into the center of town, getting incredibly lost in our extreme hunger.  We eventually found our way in, got lunch and then visited the beautiful Church of St. Barbara, dedicated to the patron saint of miners, and paid for by the vast wealth coming out of Kutna Hora’s silver mine, the largest in Central Europe.

Probably the best word fro ice cream.  Also a great new word to indicate getting ice cream all over one's face and similar situations of personal challenge.

Probably the best word fro ice cream. Also a great new word to indicate getting ice cream all over one’s face and similar situations of personal challenge.

Church of St. Barbara with Charles Bridge-style statues

Church of St. Barbara with Charles Bridge-style statues

The next day we headed to Cesky Krumlov (prounounced chesky kroom-loff), a lovely little medieval town set in a crook in the Vltava River a few hours south of Prague.  It was raining when we arrived, but the rain eventually cleared and we walked through the town a bit, enjoying the narrow, winding stone streets and views of the beautiful castle.

Cesky Krumlov town square

Cesky Krumlov town square

A bit of Czech springtime

A bit of Czech springtime

A view of the town with the castle

A view of the town with the castle

We had only one full day in Cesky Krumlov, and it ended up being beautiful.  We wandered back to the castle in the morning to book a tour, and stopped into a few shops before going on a tour of the local Eggenberg brewery.  The tour finished with half liters of Eggenberg beer with our tour mates.  After the tour we ate lunch at the Tavern of the Two Marys, which focused on historically typical Bohemian food like barley, millet, buckwheat and herbs.  Then we headed to the castle gardens where we walked for a while, and then napped under a big oak tree with bright green new leaves.  Our dinner reservation at Krcma v Satlaske (Satlavske Tavern) wasn’t until 8, we think because the guy taking our reservation was just a jerk, so we sat by the river enjoying the evening.  When we arrived at the restaurant, they had no record of our reservation, but lots of empty tables, so we settled in for a delicious medieval meal of half a roast chicken and a roast pork knee.

Bears in the castle moat

Bears in the castle moat

Brewing equipment at Eggenberg Brewery

Brewing equipment at Eggenberg Brewery

A view along the river

A view along the river

A view of the town from the castle

A view of the town from the castle

The castle gardens

The castle gardens

Getting my feet wet in the Vltava

Getting my feet wet in the Vltava

Now that is a meal.

Now that is a meal.

The next morning we toured the castle.  The only way to see the interior of the castle is on a tour and the tour in Czech was a lot cheaper, so we took that one and got an English information sheet.  The castle was very cool, with lovely old rooms and paintings, a large gilded chariot that the family used while in Rome, and a ballroom painted with commedia dell’arte characters.  (Unfortunately, no cameras allowed.)  Then we headed back to our hostel and caught our shuttle through the Bohemian and Austrian countryside to Vienna.

Tweeting Wien

Hallo aus Wien! We’re on day 3 of 35 and so far everything is wonderful. The rain today kind of ruined our plans to walk Anywhere and Everywhere, but we’re making do.

Here’s a picture of Brett enjoying our first Döner yesterday. We’ve been waiting only, oh, two years for it.

IMG_3711

 

Also, we realized that since we’re having a significantly different experience here than in the rest of our travels that we have a lot of sort of random little observations that we didn’t really know how to share with y’all. That’s when we came to the exciting/horrifying realization that that’s what Twitter is for.  I (Bowen) have had a Twitter account for a couple of years but use it fairly sparingly, mostly to keep up with other friends who use it and professionally to connect with other food folks and keep up with local organizations (previously those in LA, now the ones in Madison that I’m getting excited about). Not that I need any excuses to use Twitter, but there they are.

In any case – we’re going to try to start posting there (aka tweeting) some of our little day-to-day observations about life here in Vienna. You can see my Twitter profile at https://twitter.com/bowenappetit. If you’re on Twitter too you can respond, retweet, and some other functions I don’t really understand how to use. You can also subscribe to my Twitter feed using an RSS reader (just subscribe to the profile url), but I’m warning you that it will send you a feed for every single tweet. There are probably other ways to follow a Twitter feed, but I don’t know about them.

Hallo aus Wien!

Just a quick note to say that after 10 months (to the day!) of moving quite quickly (see the sidebar for evidence), we have arrived in Vienna, Austria.  This will be our home for the next five weeks, minus a possible overnight excursion or two.  We’re staying in the same excellent apartment where we stayed two years ago.  More to come…

Photo on 5-9-13 at 3.40 PM #2

It feels good to be home!